Fast Company

Be the Priest, Build the Church

When I co-founded PodCamp, I had no idea that I was starting an international event that would execute over 90 times in many countries. My co-founder, Christopher S. Penn, and I simply wanted to run an event where people could gather and talk about how they used social media like podcasting and blogging and video to build community or drive business. Little did I know that everything I learned from launching PodCamp would come in handy for learning how to become a trust agent.

We're not talking religion here. We're talking about a movement, specifically what it takes to launch one. Here's what I know.

Be the Priest; Build the Church

The very first secret of being a trust agent is that of learning how to stand out, and how to make that work for you. Alan M Webber and William Taylor cofounded Fast Company in 1995 by realizing that no one was offering a hip, savvy business magazine with a strong design aesthetic married to a strong informational backbone. Taking what he learned at Harvard Business Review, Webber did a great job of launching a magazine in Boston that stood out from the crowd.

In those heady early days, I was an instant fan. I joined the Boston area Company of Friends (although I rarely attended any meetings), and I stalked Heath Row, Fast Company's community guy (no idea his real title) back when we didn't have tools like Twitter to ease stalking. But that's exactly my point. Webber and Taylor didn't launch a magazine: they launched a gathering of passionate believers, and by that very experience found themselves at the center of a whole new kind of influence.

Start From Nothing

It seems tricky if you look at it after the fact. If you start hearing about me and see all I've accomplished, it might look like there's a lot going on (there is), but it all started from nothing. That's key to remember. But once you accept that we all start from nothing, you have to take some actions. Here's a quick punch list to consider:

  • Build a simple platform for your message. I started with a blog. You need a "stage" for people to view you from, and a way for them to understand your message.
  • Make it about them. Our message with PodCamp was, "everybody's a rockstar. You're one of us." We built that into the DNA of the event.
  • Lead. Starting a movement doesn't happen if you seek consensus. Lead and be decisive. You can seek opinions, and you must definitely enlist participants who feel empowered, but without you as a leader, the organization will falter, and thus, never really launch.
  • Keep everything simple and participatory. FastCompany launched with a very simple message: we're here to celebrate new ways of doing business well. It was simple. It was also a game everyone could play. "I'm a fast company." "Hey, me too!"
  • Treat the inner circle well. In "One of Us," we learned while writing Trust Agents that there's something huge about belonging, about being on the inside. Do lots to make this a very important part of your effort.

Let's stop at those five steps. It's enough to get your mind starting, and perhaps enough for you to realize how you might next make a movement around your interests.

A Brief Note About Passion

In writing this, I realized that some of you might be reading this and thinking about your current job. First, if it's a job and not a passion that pays your salary, think instead about that thing you dream of doing when you're not at the cubicle farm. This won't be the same blueprint one follows when trying to launch a new flavor of ice cream at a corporation. This post and these ideas in this particular case are about passion projects.

That said, we all know that there are brilliant little departments that operate like small fast companies of their own inside larger organizations. Fast Company covered Humana an issue or two ago, and I have visited their Innovation Center. Believe me, they are passionate. They could build a church for sure.

It's All About Them

Webber and Taylor didn't launch Fast Company by making a platform that praised them. I didn't launch PodCamp to be at its core. Instead, these kinds of movements work best when you start with the mindset of empowering others, and building leaders everywhere. Make the movement about them from the start (and by "them," I mean the people who gather to understand your platform), and you have a winner.

We absorb everything in life through our autobiographical filter. The pieces that stick to us are those that we feel explain us or define us or that we hope represent us. Make your passionate movement about the people you choose to serve, and you have a winning opportunity.

What Does One DO With This "Church?"

If you're Mark Horvath, you launch Invisible People, a movement that hopes to help the homeless through telling their story loudly and clearly. If you're Tony Hsieh, you launch Zappos, a company that showed us that customer service isn't dead, and that excellent customer service is evidently worth almost a billion U.S. dollars. If you're Drew Olanoff, you launch Blame Drew's Cancer , a site to drive awareness and funding for cancer where one can blame anything at all on Drew's cancer.

The possibilities are endless, but you have to have a platform. Being a trust agent means understanding how to gain awareness, and translate it ultimately into trust so that such projects and movements can flourish. Once you realize that this is a possibility and that you're capable of starting a movement of whatever kind around your passion, it's only a matter of moving decisively forward.

What will you do with your movement?

Read more of Chris Brogan's Trust Agents Blog

Chris Brogan is co-author of the book Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust. He is president of New Marketing Labs, LLC, and lives north of Boston, Massachusetts.

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1 Comments

  • Heath Row

    Thanks for the kind words, Chris. When I was coordinating the Company of Friends, my title was Social Capitalist. The readers network launched in 1997, and at its peak involved about 45,000 people in 165 local chapters and online interest groups. Those folks were in about 35 countries around the world. The CoF wasn't large compared to some of the social media projects today, but it attracted smart and productive people who met face to face, as well as online, to collaborate on real projects, solve important problems, and explore big ideas. One of the neatest things I've ever been involved in.